Puppy classes: Education for you and your dog

" Hi. I would like to bring my Lab puppy for some obedience classes. He’s very smart and knows how to sit, stay, come, and shake a paw, but he’s not very good on leash."

"No problem. How old is your pup?"

"10 months."

This conversation is typical of the ones I have with people looking for help with training their dogs. But very quickly after I started my career as a dog obedience trainer I learned that the conversation should come with a disclaimer – “not exactly as described”!

For one thing, at 10 months, this “pup” is no longer a pup. He is an adolescent, in full thrall of his hormones and his zest for life and adventure. Secondly, he may be smart, but it’s a pretty safe bet that he only sits, stays and comes when there are few or no distractions, and probably only when it jibes with his own agenda. And finally, “not very good on leash” is usually a euphemism for “drags the leash and owner down the street, at full speed, occasionally making an abrupt 90-degree turn to go sniff a particularly interesting blade of grass”.

I know this because 90% of the time when the person and dog showed up for class, the dog powered his way through the doorway first, dragging an unhappy owner at the end of a long, tight leash, who was leaning backwards at a dangerous angle and making a last desperate attempt to clutch at the door frame while calling out “Roverrrrr….. sttttopppp!”

Changing Rover’s leash behaviour is absolutely doable, but it takes work and patience and consistency. It’s a lot easier to prevent the bad behaviour from developing in the first place than it is to undo the months that Rover has spent building his muscles while perfecting his ability to haul his owner around at the end of a leash.

Early training is so important to the development of a well-mannered pup and a happy owner. Unfortunately, people hear about “puppy classes” and think they are just an optional fun thing to do if they have some spare time. Proper “obedience classes” can be done at a later date, when the pup is older.

Because, let’s be honest, when we’re looking at a cute little bundle of fur with big eyes, who looks at us adoringly, follows us around the house, and falls asleep on our laps, it’s hard to imagine that that pup, in just a few short months, is going to grow into a powerful and obnoxious adolescent who jumps on Aunt Mabel, scares delivery people with ferocious barking, and responds to “come” by running away.

But that’s what happens if an owner does not start early in developing a strong relationship with the pup and helping him understand the rules and boundaries of the household. And the best way to help the pup do this is to enrol him in puppy classes.

Not only do puppy classes provide a safe environment for the pups to socialize with each other and learn the all-important basics of dog-to-dog communication, but they also provide owners and pups with an introduction to good manners and obedience training. Most importantly, they help the owner and pup develop a strong bond of love, trust, and loyalty, which will last a lifetime.

Different schools have different criteria for the age at which a pup is considered a pup. But given that the pup needs to have had at least his initial two sets of vaccinations before he can start, and given that hormones begin kicking in around 18 weeks, puppy classes are often restricted to pups between the ages of 12 and 18 weeks.

While that may seem very young, if you want to keep your shoes from being chewed, your Aunt Mabel from being knocked over, your living room from resembling the aftermath of a demotion derby, and your arm from being yanked out of its socket during leash walks, I urge you to consider enrolling your cute little furball in a puppy class.

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